With school finances stretched thin, a group of Naugatuck citizens has come together to help make the ends meet.
Incorporated in March, the newly-formed Naugatuck Education Foundation (NEF) hopes to increase community involvement in education and award grants to teachers and schools for innovative projects to enrich the educational experience for Naugatuck public school students.
The group plans to raise money though community-based activities, projects and donations, not through tax dollars. It will work independently of the Board of Education to support the board’s goals.
With the school budget funded nearly $900,000 less than what the Board of Education requested—a few extra dollars could come in handy.
NEF Chair Joan Doback said the school budget is always too small to begin with.
“If we can supplement the school budget without putting it on the backs of the taxpayers, it’s a great answer to the problem,” Doback said.
The foundation has been in the works for two and a half years, starting with a steering committee, which put together the foundations’ bylaws and legal documents.
“Many people have worked on this,” said Doback, who got involved after the initial group was set up.
William Brown, the foundation’s vice chair, was part of the foundation’s steering committee.
“My long-term goal for the education foundation is to be a sustainable effort with large community involvement,” Brown said.
The NEF hopes to begin raising funds once it receives its status as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, hopefully sometime this summer.
Brown said the grants awarded by the NEF will be for one-time projects, not ongoing programs. He expects teachers to begin brainstorming and offering a flood of project ideas once funds become available.
“It’s more a like an incubator or a think tank,” Brown said.
The foundation is modeled after successful education foundations throughout the state.
In other Connecticut school districts, education foundations have funded foreign languages like Chinese in elementary and middle schools, built a green house to support an ecological curriculum, created science classrooms, and bought string instruments for elementary schools, according to Doback.
She said the NEF could support Naugatuck with its goal adding on more 21st century learning, including critical thinking and technology, into the classroom. The foundation could fund engineering computer programs or biotechnology, she said.
“The ideas are endless,” Doback said.
Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson is no stranger to education foundations, having worked side-by-side with such foundations in previous jobs.
Tindall-Gibson said one foundation he worked with in Tucson, Ariz. raised $3 million per year. That foundation ran a summer school and a latch key after school program at an elementary school, as well as offering grants to teachers.
“They were great they did a lot of things,” Tindall-Gibson said.
Closer to home, in Litchfield, a foundation that started while Tindall-Gibson was there raised money throughout the year to give teachers grants for innovative ideas.
In Cheshire, Tindall-Gibson said, an education foundation picks one big project each year and raises the necessary money to go out and do it.
In Naugatuck, Tindall-Gibson said he’d like to see mini-grants for teachers.
“Teachers often have great ideas of projects they would like to do with their students, but they can’t get the money,” he said.
Tindall-Gibson added that he would like to see a strings program at the schools.
“There’s certainly no shortage of things we can do with the schools,” he said.
Even though he is retiring in June 2012, Tindall-Gibson said he was sure the foundation will be successful long after he’s gone.
He said some foundations raise most of their money locally, a model that works well in wealthier towns, but in Naugatuck, Tindall-Gibson said it would be better for the foundation to reach outside the community to get donations from corporate sponsors and alumni.
“It takes a lot of work and consistency over the years to develop those sources of revenue,” Tindall-Gibson said.
Although the NEF is focused on providing resources for the school system, Doback said the group’s efforts will benefit the whole borough.
“With a good school system, you’re going to bring businesses in, you’re going to improve your property values,” Doback said.